Legislators welcome Rick Warren in session's final week
May 4, 2004
JAMES A. SMITH SR.
Executive Editor

Related Coverage:

2004 Legislature

TALLAHASSEE (FBW) – In the midst of the waning days of the legislative session, members of the Florida Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush welcomed author Rick Warren to the state capital to teach his book, The Purpose Driven Life. Visiting Tallahassee at the invitation of a bipartisan coalition of House and Senate members who participate in a weekly Bible study, Warren told a reception of local pastors that the U.S. is at the “tipping point” of a spiritual awakening.

 Rick Warren (middle-right), pastor and author, signs a copy of his <i>New York Times</i> bestseller, <i>The Purpose Driven Life</i>, during a pastors’ reception at the state capital in Tallahassee April 18.

Photo by James A. Smith Sr.

Rick Warren (middle-right), pastor and author, signs a copy of his New York Times bestseller, The Purpose Driven Life, during a pastors’ reception at the state capital in Tallahassee April 18.

While visiting the state capital, the pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and founder of the Purpose Driven movement, also shared a private dinner with the governor and select legislators at the Governor’s Mansion, signed books for legislative staff and lobbyists, taught the legislator’s Bible study, led the House in prayer as guest chaplain and held a reception with local pastors.

Rep. Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) introduced Warren to his fellow representatives in the House chamber April 28, saying that it was an “honor” to have the Southern Baptist pastor lead in prayer. Warren’s book “has had a significant impact on our life and on this session,” Gardiner added.

Ironically, the same day that Warren prayed in the House, Florida Baptist pastor Clayton Cloer was the guest of Sen. Daniel Webster (R-Winter Garden) to offer the invocation in the upper chamber of the Legislature. Unlike Warren’s visit, Cloer’s prayer resulted in controversy – including an apology to senators by Senate President James E. “Jim” King (R-Jacksonville) – because the pastor of First Baptist Church of Central Florida in Orlando concluded his prayer, “… in the Name of Jesus. Amen.” [For more on this story, see, “Senate president apologizes for Baptist pastor’s prayer.”]

 Rick Warren (seated right), pastor, Saddleback Community Church, Lake Forest, Calif., visited with Florida legislators and prayed during a reception for pastors at the state capital April 28. Kneeling next to Warren is Tim Ireland, chairman of the Christian Leadership Council and a former member of the Florida House of Representatives from Fort Myers/Naples.

Photo by James A. Smith Sr.

Rick Warren (seated right), pastor, Saddleback Community Church, Lake Forest, Calif., visited with Florida legislators and prayed during a reception for pastors at the state capital April 28. Kneeling next to Warren is Tim Ireland, chairman of the Christian Leadership Council and a former member of the Florida House of Representatives from Fort Myers/Naples.

Warren’s Tallahassee visit was a “total God thing,” which came together over the span of about a week, according to Tim Ireland, chairman of the Christian Leadership Council, a private, non-profit organization that offers spiritual guidance to members of the legislature, legislative staff and lobbyists in Tallahasse. He is a former member of the Florida House of Representatives from Fort Myers/Naples.

Ireland told Florida Baptist Witness that the members-only Bible study obtained a copy of The Purpose Driven Life for every member of the legislature at the beginning of this year’s 60-day session and the group – numbering about 45 – has studied the book throughout the session.

“It was such a treat to have Rick Warren spend an hour and twenty minutes leading the legislative Bible study; he made a great impact for the Kingdom in that room today,” said Ireland, a Southern Baptist minister who is currently pursuing at Master of Divinity degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary at the Baptist College of Florida extension in Graceville.

Sen. Webster, a regular participant in the Bible study, told the Witness, “I love the idea of a purpose driven life. I think everybody should have a purpose, find out what that purpose is and then do everything they can through the power of God’s Spirit to fulfill that purpose.” He said that highlighting this principle has been helpful, noting that “a lot” of the legislators who came to hear Warren and the weekly studies are “on the edge” of spiritual decisions.

In a 30 minute talk to about 70 Tallahassee-area pastors, Warren predicted that America was ripe for a new great awakening: “I believe we are almost at the tipping point right now in our culture. … I think we could probably hit that tipping point by the end of the year.”

He pointed to the phenomenal sales of Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of The Christ,” as well as sales of his book – which has been atop The New York Times bestseller list for more than a year and is selling more than a million copies a month – as evidence that America may be on the verge of a revival.

Noting that it takes only five percent of the people to change a culture, Warren told the pastors that 15,000 American churches in the last two years have participated in “40 Days of Purpose” emphases based on the book, with another 15,000 scheduled to launch the emphasis in the coming fall.

Those 30,000 churches represent 10 percent of the churches in the United States, Warren said.

“I’m deeply humbled by this as I hear what God is doing in so many churches. It’s just amazing,” he said.

Warren told the pastors that his church is now focused on taking the next step in the Purpose Driven movement – a campaign this fall called, “40 Days of Community,” that will focus on outreach. “We exist to bless the world; we exist to make a difference in the community [by being] salt and light.”

In 2005, Saddleback will launch its globally focused P.E.A.C.E. initiative (Plant churches. Equip leaders. Assist the poor. Care for the sick. Educate the next generation.) to “take on the five biggest global giants: spiritual emptiness, poor leadership, poverty, disease and education.”

Warren said, “I intend to use the Purpose Driven movement to fulfill PEACE in a new reformation.” While the first Reformation of 500 years ago was a reformation of belief, this one will be a reformation of behavior – “what does the church do?”

The extraordinary wealth created by the remarkable sales of The Purpose Driven Life has caused Warren to make commitments to ensure that the money does not change him, he told the pastors.

He and his wife agreed that they would not change their lifestyle, in spite of the financial windfall; they would pay back every dollar Saddleback Church has paid him in 24 years of ministry; they set-up three foundations to use the sales proceeds – none of which he is taking for personal use; and the Warrens are now “reverse tithers” – giving 90 percent to ministry and keeping just 10 percent for themselves.

“I don’t think God gives money or fame for your own ego,” Warren said, adding that he has told God, “Obviously, this is Your money God and this is Your platform, so what do You want me to do with it.”

The stewardship of affluence and the stewardship of influence are two principles Warren said he believes God wants him to live in the light of his book’s success, noting that offers are regularly coming in from government, the business world, and even Hollywood, seeking Warren’s help in understanding The Purpose Driven Life.

Barrett Lampp, associate pastor of Thomasville Road Baptist Church in Tallahassee, said that he came to the reception because “we want to really let him know that we appreciate his ministry and especially some of his ideas.”

Lampp told the Witness that Warren’s visit to the state capital is “exciting” because several church members are involved in state government.

Tim Ireland added, “God is up to something here at the state capital that will hopefully continue at other state capitals.”

Related Coverage:

2004 Legislature

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